My last post here was all about strategies for keeping going with a novel, even when life gets in the way. But more generally, how does a writer fit the act of actual writing in when s/he has any of the following: family, day job, friends, day to day commitments, a life? [delete as appropriate]
What I talked about in my earlier post was developing the knack for making the most of every opportunity: journeys, waiting for meetings, lunchbreaks, etc. You can add the following to that list:
- Getting up early. This is an approach I’ve used at various times. Right now it would be difficult to do: I start work at the day job at 7.30 in the morning, so to get any useful writing time before then I’d need to be getting up at around 5am, I reckon. In the past I’ve had spells of getting up at 6.30am, writing for a couple of hours and getting in to work for 9. It’s been very productive, but wasn’t sustainable for more than a few weeks at a time. It’s great when you need a burst of productivity and evenings and weekends just don’t allow that.
- Grab an hour after work. If you finish work at 5.30pm, why not stay in the office until 6.30 and write for an hour? Or stop off at a coffee shop or a scenic parking place on the way home to write for an hour? Or grab that hour as soon as you get home? Then by 6.30 you still have the evening ahead of you. Really, if you did a long commute instead, you’d have less of an evening than this.
- Carve out some time late at night – those midnight to 3am stretches. Lots of writers are at their best writing late, so why not give it a go? I chatted to one writer about this recently and this is his preferred way of working, but I’ve only rarely worked like this myself: it’s not my best time, and I do try to have a life, but when I’ve done it it’s worked well.
- When you actually manage to get a good long writing day, make the most of it. When my partner was away for the weekend recently, I did exactly this. I had a good writing session in the morning, then took a break for lunch. Then another good session in the afternoon and I was well past my word-count target for the day. It would have been so easy to pour myself a glass of 25 year-old Linkwood and called it a day. Instead, I had something to eat and then sat down to write again. Any words I wrote during that session would be a bonus. In the end I added another 1500 words – almost as good as squeezing another writing day in.
- One of the loveliest presents I’ve received was a long writing weekend: my partner and I went to a bed and breakfast in north Norfolk; I wrote for a few hours in the mornings and then we did holiday things for the afternoons and evenings. That’s such a chilled way to work and I was incredibly productive.
In a perfect world, when I’m writing first draft I like to write intensely: write every day until it’s finished, then fix it later (and believe me, it always needs a lot of fixing). I think my record is to write a complete novel draft in 16 days, although normally it takes much longer (and it took me several years to sell that particular novel).
Nowadays I don’t have the luxury of long blocks of writing time, so I have to compromise. One thing I’m toying with is trying to combine the intense approach with all the techniques above for my next novel.
Purely by coincidence I should be ready to start looking seriously at my next novel by November – National Novel-Writing Month. I’ve never tried NaNoWriMo before, but it fits in perfectly: do you think it’s possible for me to combine a day job, having a life, etc, with being as productive as a full-time writer and get that first draft down in a month? I’m not anal about getting it done in a month: I accept that 3,300 words a day for a 100k word novel is ambitious even for most full-time writers. I wouldn’t mind if it took a few days longer.
But… what do you think? Am I mad?